Orange County supervisors are expected Tuesday to walk back a plan to erect large tents in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel to temporarily house transients relocated from the Santa Ana riverbed and Santa Ana.
The Board of Supervisors on March 19 held a special meeting to approve consideration of “sprung structures,” which are large tents often used by hotels to handle overflow from ballrooms. The supervisors voted to direct staff to research the logistics and then work with the officials in each of the three cities, but it never got that far as residents and city leaders erupted with outrage and threatened litigation.
County officials are confident they have enough beds to handle the transients from the riverbed as their county-issued-30-day motel vouchers expire. But to satisfy U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is overseeing litigation against the county regarding the relocation of the transients from the riverbed, they pledged to pursue the large tents in the three cities in case they lacked enough beds.
The plan was to put 200 beds in Irvine, with 100 each set aside in Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel. If the beds were filled in Irvine, then officials would then turn to Huntington Beach and then to Laguna Niguel.
But officials in Huntington Beach complained the property in their city is plagued with methane gas issues, and Laguna Niguel officials say the plot of land under consideration in their city is next to the now-shuttered Orange County Superior Courthouse, which has issues with asbestos and mold.
The urgency to find additional beds came from Carter’s plan to see a similar relocation of transients from the Plaza of the Flags area next to the Central Justice Center courthouse in Santa Ana. But Carter told supervisors at a court hearing last week he would tap the brakes on that plan to make sure officials have enough beds for the 170 or so transients there.
Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who will chair Tuesday’s meeting as Chairman Andrew Do is out of town, lamented the “lizard reaction” officials in the cities had to the plan, saying, “The challenge is we have no alternative.”
Nelson has long championed putting up a temporary shelter at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, which is zoned it for the homeless, while the Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel sites are not at this point.
At the special meeting last week, the supervisors also voted to spend $70.5 million of money earmarked for the mentally ill to provide beds for the transients through the construction of a new facility or renovation of existing facilities.